‘Empowering’, ‘feminist’, ‘breaking boundaries’: our response to WAP claims

Warning - some explicit content. NSFW

Claims that the song and music video "Wet Ass Pussy" (WAP) by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are "feminist" and "empowering" are false. Here we answer some of the most common claims defending the song.

Read first: WAP: High production porn with a hip hop beat

"It’s not intended for children- parents need to supervise their kids"

"My son’s first exposure to porn came at 9 from a 10 yr old with a cell phone that had full data.

This child was mocking other children about not watching pornhub yet. He later on proceeded to pull up a video on the playground and show unsuspecting boys who were sharing silly videos or watching gamer videos about Minecraft. As you can see it had nothing to do with me having control of my child’s internet usage." - a mother, via Facebook

Parents only have so much power to shield their children from pornographic content. While parents have a responsibility to be engaged and monitor their children’s internet access, it is impossible for them to protect their kids on their own. We have been contacted by parents whose children have been exposed to hardcore pornography at school, on the school bus, at friends’ houses and at school camps. It takes a village to raise a child, and the village is toxic.

WAP’s treatment of women as “whores” who desire being beaten and choked by men is not only harmful if children are exposed to it - the normalisation and eroticisation of men’s violence against women has serious real-world consequences for women. In case anyone forgets, children - who are moulded and shaped by cultural messages from the time they are born - become adults.

"WAP is just about women expressing their sexuality"

WAP is a commercial product designed to generate profits, not to showcase authentic sexuality. The music video was directed by a man, Colin Tilley, who has directed more than 200 music videos.

This has nothing to do with the expression of female sexuality, it is a marketing machine, including many men, capitalising on porn culture.

If WAP is an expression of female sexuality why is it indistinguishable from mainstream porn made for a heterosexual male audience? WAP recycles the same old porn-inspired, manufactured, generic, made-for-men ‘sexuality’ as always.

WAP replicates common porn tropes - women as objects, reduced to a series of fetishised body parts, referred to as “whores” and portrayed as enjoying acts of degradation and sexualised violence from men.

WAP has also been promoted by Pornhub, the largest porn site in the world and target of a global campaign exposing trafficking in underage girls, rape videos, videos taken without consent and for eroticising racist abuse.

The music video was reproduced on the site, spliced with images of black women being brutalised and ejaculated on.

"WAP is a feminist statement - it empowers women"

If WAP is hailed as feminist and empowering, these words no longer have meaning. Feminism involves resisting oppression, not embracing it.

WAP replicates sexist porn tropes of women as ‘whores’, the objectification and fetishisation of black women’s bodies, and positions acts of sexual degradation and violence against women as sexually desirable.

As David Pilgrim from The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia writes:

Compared to White women, Black women are rarely represented as victims; instead, Black women are presented as 'sexual animals' or 'impoverished whores.' As with most racial stereotypes, the 'flaw' is attributed not to the person (as is the case with Whites, 'That woman is a whore') but is attributed to the person's race ('Black women are whores'). There are hundreds of pornographic movies that portray Black women as racialized Jezebels. Videos with titles like Black Chicks in Heat, Black Bitches, Hoochie Mamas, Video Sto' Ho, Black and Nasty, Bound Black Beauties, Fat Ghetto Whores, South Central Hookers, Jungle Sluts, and Git Yo' Ass On Da Bus! validate the belief that Black women are sexual deviants. 

WAP is not a feminist statement, it’s patriarchy in action. Sexist and pornified representations like these do not ‘empower’ women, they literally disempower them. The same old sexually objectifying treatment of women as objects of male gratification doesn’t magically become progressive or feminist simply because some women participate in or profit from it.

Women as a whole are harmed by sexual objectification and the normalisation of men’s violence as good and desirable. It’s hard to fathom that a song featuring the repeated refrain “there’s some whores in this house” could be pitched as a feminist anthem.

Feminism is about resisting misogyny not normalising it, and not repackaging it as 'sexy.'

“Feminism” - premised on the degradation, subordination and objectification of women - is not feminism at all. It's just misogyny.

"Some women enjoy sexualised violence"

I wanna gag, I wanna choke
I want you to touch that little dangly dang
That swang in the back of my throat

Spit in my mouth

Never lost a fight, but I'm looking for a beating

Tie me up

You can't hurt my feelings, but I like pain

Some have defended WAP’s promotion of sexualised violence against women as desirable on the basis that some women enjoy being beaten and choked during sex. But violence does not cease to be violence simply because it is sexualised.

Rather than defending men’s violence against women on the premise that some women enjoy it, we need to engage in critical analysis. Why do some women enjoy violence against them? What messages does the wider culture send about men, women, power, sex and violence? How might these shape both men’s and women’s attitudes to violence?

Are men proclaiming ‘empowerment’ from being subjected to sexualised violence, degradation and abuse?

As Jen Izaakson and Laura Briggs wrote in their article 'Women as Property'

“[WAP] ecourages men to enter into sexual intimacy with a callous detachment, and encourages women to take pride in their ability to withstand emotionally-detached, aggressive treatment and contempt from their sexual partners.”

We need to consider the role of violent mainstream pornography in the eroticisation of men’s violence against women.

A 2010 content analysis of the best-selling and best-renting pornographic videos available in the USA found that verbal and physical aggression against women was rampant, with physical aggression occurring in 88 per cent of scenes, with 94 per cent of physical and verbal aggression directed towards women. In most cases, researchers noted that women responded either neutrally or favourably to acts of violence against them.

We have long argued that the eroticisaton of men’s violence against women has serious real-world consequences for women. In a recent article published on RendezView, our Campaigns Manager Caitlin Roper wrote:

A recent study out of Indiana University School of Public Health found that nearly a quarter of women surveyed in the US have felt scared during sex, and a number of respondents reported being unexpectedly choked by their partners.

In the UK, campaign group We Can’t Consent To This has documented sixty cases where women have been killed by men who claimed it was as a result of “rough sex” or a BDSM “sex game gone wrong”. In 45 per cent of cases, this defence resulted in a lighter sentence, an acquittal, or a death not being investigated.

New legislation to outlaw this type of defence will come into effect later in the year, but the fact remains that widespread acceptance of the belief women enjoy men’s violence and abuse puts women at risk.

The banalisation of violence against women is also explored in this recent piece ‘Tik Tok, Netflix’s ‘365 Days’ and the memeification of violent sex by generation Z’.

"WAP is breaking boundaries”

There is nothing remotely ‘boundary breaking’ in this video. WAP reinforces the same old sexist, porn-inspired representations of women for the male gaze, the same objectification and fetishisation of black women’s bodies, serving up women as masturbatory fodder.

The video and lyrics replicate the same gendered dynamics of male dominance and aggression and female subordination as mainstream pornography, with women shown enjoying acts of male violence against them. None of this is original, none of it is new- it’s the same old treatment of Women As Property, the same pornified heterosexual male fantasy as always.

Pic: The Jim Crow Museum, Jezebel Stereotypes

In the documentary Liberated, Sut Jhally comments on the representation of women in mainstream popular culture:

“An individual image only makes sense in terms of what else surrounds it ... When one image is surrounded by another image that looks exactly the same, looks exactly the same, looks exactly the same, and is only about one aspect of what women’s identities could be, that’s when I think these images will then start to take a real hold, because it normalises the idea that to be a regular girl means to act in this way.”

In a culture where women are routinely portrayed as sexual objects, and where their ‘power’ is in their sexual desirability, how is WAP any different? WAP maintains the sexist status quo.

A young woman wrote to us:

"The song is extremely catchy. I've found myself having a bop to it even though it is so fundamentally against what I believe.

WAP makes me wonder...like...is that it? If a woman’s sex appeal is the way she achieves "power", I've lost all hope for the future of our girls.

I'm also really confused as to the celebration of this song among some 'feminists'. Is it not blatantly clear by the music video that this song is predominantly about what women can do sexually for men? Hint hint: FOR men? So if it is FOR men, it is reinforcing patriarchy, NOT opposing it! The only 'empowerment' from this song, yet again, falls to men." - Shannon Howell

As Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist wrote, WAP does not break boundaries - “it tightens the fences around us.”

"Men have been doing this [explicit rap] for years and nobody cared"

This is false. Feminists have called out misogyny from male recording artists, and within popular culture more generally, for decades.

Since 2009 when our movement was formed, we have exposed a number of male performers for their promotion of misogyny, rape culture and violence against women, including Eminem, Tyler the Creator, Robin Thicke, Redfoo, Snoop Dogg, Brian McFadden and Kanye West.

Even little girls have spoken out against 'constant degradation of Black women'

"Letter to Lil Wayne" is a direct statement of truth from Watoto From The Nile. Growing tired and fed up with the constant degredation of Black women inside of Hip Hop music, they voice thier views and opinions on this melodic track."

Regardless, why should women replicating these same porn-inspired dynamics be seen as evidence of progress? Objectification, sexist and pornified depictions of women and the portrayal of women as “whores” who welcome acts of sexual violence and degradation is nothing to be celebrated, even if a few women profit from it.

Men have been doing this to black women for years. Feminists have always cared.

"If you don’t like it, don’t listen"

We don’t like it, we don’t listen, but we have to live in a community with people who do. We have to live in a community with people whose sexist attitudes towards women are reinforced by music like this. We have to live in a community with people whose ideas that women are “whores” and objects of sexual recreation are affirmed by these songs.

Pic: message received from a teacher at an all boys school following the release of 'WAP'

Women and girls are harmed by misogyny regardless of whether we view or otherwise participate in it. We do not have the option to merely ‘opt out’ of a culture that objectifies, demeans and exploits women.

“Don’t like it, don’t listen” makes as much sense as saying “don’t like pollution, don’t breathe.”

"There are much bigger problems for women than this song"

We have written extensively on the links between objectification in popular culture, advertising, music and fashion and men’s violence against women.

The research is solid, with twenty years of empirical research and 135 studies across 109 publications documenting the negative effects of sexual objectification. Consistent evidence found that:

"regular, everyday exposure to [sexually objectifying portrayals of women] are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity."

Men’s violence against women exists on a continuum. In order to address this violence, we need to go to the roots and address the sexist attitudes and routine objectification of women- attitudes which are shaped in part by media and popular culture.

Image Source: Gippsland Women’s Health, https://www.gwhealth.asn.au/

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